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Why stretching is extremely important for Tai Chi 

“Let’s talk about exercise-oriented stretching and bone-setting.

Every morning, in the park or by the lake, you can always see many morning exercisers bending and stretching to stretch their ligaments. This type of exercise method is well known to everyone. As long as someone wants to exercise, even without a teacher’s guidance, they will instinctively and naturally perform leg stretches and waist bends. Similarly, professional gymnasts, acrobats, dancers, etc., also consider leg stretches and waist bends as fundamental training. The purpose of this training method is to stretch the overall ligaments. The benefits include improving the flow of qi and blood in the body, achieving fitness effects, and making body movements more flexible and aesthetically pleasing. For example, gymnasts and dancers’ movements present a gentle, coordinated, and graceful visual beauty to the audience.

Now, let’s talk about Tai Chi’s stretching and bone-setting.

We all know that each martial art has different requirements for muscles and the skeleton due to its specific movement directions and technique structures. This also relates to the human body’s muscle force points, force sequence, force path, force magnitude, force direction, force speed, degree of relaxation, and force accuracy, all of which require a process of reorganization. The movement style must not only conform to the external characteristics of the form but also meet the internal requirements of energy and strength. Furthermore, there is only one correct way of organizing these elements.

So, Tai Chi’s stretching and bone-setting are different from the regular overall stretching training methods.

1. The force generation in Tai Chi is essentially a process of transforming muscle force into skeletal transmission force. Joints, ligaments, and sub-ligaments must be organized correctly according to Tai Chi’s requirements to achieve standard Tai Chi techniques. The stretching and bone-setting in Tai Chi is conducted through spiral stretching, aiming to enhance the overall rigidity of the skeletal structure and increase the rotational capacity of the sub-ligaments within the joints. This improves the range of motion, exemplifying Tai Chi’s combination of softness and hardness.

2. Tai Chi’s stretching is not isolated but a complex stretching in multiple directions—front and back, left and right, up and down. In this process, some muscles actively exert force to control the expansion and twisting, while other temporarily unused muscle fibers are passively elongated. This coordinated stretching aims to elongate and stretch all muscle fibers, ligaments, and sub-ligaments. Over time, the practitioner’s muscles become soft like cotton and are completely different from what is commonly referred to as “loose” in regular Tai Chi practice. At the same time, the overall rigidity of the skeletal structure becomes stronger, and it is completely different from the scattered and loose movements often seen in conventional practice.

3. Tai Chi’s characteristic strength is the “spiral coiling power,” which arises from the prolonged twisting and stretching of the joints. This is the unique round and coiling power of Tai Chi, but currently, Tai Chi practitioners are everywhere, training the art with their bodies completely relaxed, without any emphasis on spiral stretching and bone-setting. As such, it is impossible to obtain the “round and coiling power.” True skill is achieved through hard work and cannot be developed through long-term relaxation. Even if one were to achieve some skill through relaxation, it would not be the true essence of Tai Chi; it would be a distorted version. Experienced Tai Chi experts can determine the level of a practitioner by feeling their muscles because this entire muscular structure is honed through long-term spiral stretching and bone-setting, and it cannot be faked.

Lastly, let’s discuss the fitness effect of spiral stretching and bone-setting.

In 2010, while filming the program “The Ultimate Martial Art,” we conducted several tests at the National Institute of Sports Science, among which the “joint torque” left a deep impression. Joint torque does not increase with the number of years spent practicing Tai Chi; instead, it decreases with age, highlighting the importance of regular joint training. Spiral stretching and bone-setting in Tai Chi precisely exercise the joints, promoting practitioners’ agility and lightness in movements and helping to slow down the decline of “joint torque.”

After all that has been said, it should be clear that dance-style stretching and bone-setting and Tai Chi’s stretching and bone-setting are completely different. One is unidirectional and singular, while the other is a comprehensive spiral coiling stretching in all directions. Once Tai Chi practitioners understand these two methods of stretching and bone-setting, they will avoid the pitfalls in their practice and refrain from turning Tai Chi into mere exercise.

In conclusion, the training method of Tai Chi’s stretching and bone-setting can be summed up in sixteen words: “More flexibility in mobile joints and more stability in fixed joints.” This also aligns with the essence of Chinese Tai Chi culture.”

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